Inflatable sleeping pads have come a long way from the crude rubber mattresses with built in pillows. Also, gone are the days of self inflating mattresses. I once used to own a Therm-A-Rest Prolite self inflating mattress but those days are long gone. Things have improved a lot since then.
Ultralight, high tech materials and lifetime warranties make them the best option for sleeping away from home.
But the high cost and possibility of getting a hole can frustrate people at times.
Foam Sleeping pads have long been the favourite due their budget price, great thermal qualities and ease of use. Just roll out the foam pad and fall asleep.
But for anyone who is a side sleeper or needs a comfortable bed this option is painful and not conducive of a good nights sleep.
Overall, the inflatable mattress and foam pads have good and bad points. But now is the era of the inflatable mattress. Advances in technology will only see things get better.
Will the best backpacking sleeping pads ever be puncture resistant!
Side Sleeper vs Back Sleeper
I am a side sleeper. Just the thought of sleeping on a closed cell foam mattress brings pain to all parts of my body. Therefore, it is important to know how you sleep when choosing a mattress.
The thicker core on the air pads is more comfortable but it takes more breathes to blow up. Many have stuff sacks that double as pump sack to inflate the inflatable pads.
Back sleepers are usually able to withstand a thinner mattress a lot better. Therefore, any mattress in this review would work out well for them in the comfort stakes.
All the backpacking sleeping pads except the Z Lite foam pad would be good for side sleepers. Those with a sore back would not like the Therm a Rest z Lite Sol.
Inflatable Mattress Warranty
Inflatable mattresses have a bad reputation of not only getting holes but delaminating from the inside. The internal baffles which are important for the integrity of the mattress often fail, causing a large bubble to appear.
I have had this happen to several of the well known brands and each time the warranty of the companies have been rock solid.
These companies stand behind their products. Failure to do so would destroy the confidence in buying such a lightweight piece of gear. Hence the rise of the air mattress and the decline of the foam mattress.
How to Look After a Lightweight Sleeping Pad
Prevent dirt and body oils from coming in contact with the mattress by using sleep clothing such as long merino pants and long merino top. Some people use a sleeping bag liner too.
Do not allow Deet mosquito repellent, fuel from stoves or embers from a campfire to get anywhere near a mattress. Wash them off immediately.
If campfire embers contact your mattress, you might have an uncomfortable nights sleep with the backpacking sleeping pad deflating!
A wet sleeping mattress can be packed up while wet for the short term. It is not always possible to keep the mattress dry. Be sure and air it out (with the valve open) as soon as possible.
Ensure the campsite is free of thorns or sharp objects that might puncture the air mattress.
How to clean and store a Sleeping Mat
It is also a good idea to wash the mattress with a sponge and warm soapy water.
Make sure the air valve is closed when washing.
Unroll and unpack the mattress and let it air out for at least a day or two.
Hang or store the mattress in a cool dry place, inside a wardrobe with clothing or under a bed works well for me.
How to repair a mattress in the field
Finding the hole can be a problem. Rivers and lakes make the best places to blow up the mattress and try to find the hole.
Clean the area around the hole. A small alcohol wipe found in first aid kits are good for cleaning the area. When it is clean and dry, use a small sticky contact patch such as a Tenacious Tape Patch.
A small drop of liquid seam sealer can be used to repair very small leaks but not larger holes. Make sure it is a silicon based seam sealer such as this Silicon Seam Sealer.
PRO TIP Ever slept on a slope and woke up to find the mattress slipped overnight and pressing against the bottom of the tent? I add Silicon Seam Sealer on the bottom of my air mattress to stop it slipping and sliding around in my tent at night, specially if my tent is pitched on a slope. But only use a silicon based sealer, not the water based one.
R-Value Sleeping Pad
The Sleeping Pad R-Value, when used in the context of measuring Sleeping Mats, refers to the ability of the mattress to stop the transfer of heat or cold through the pad.
In cold weather a high R-Value sleeping pad will serve to reduce the cold temperatures from snow or frozen ground transferring to the person sleeping on the pad.
This is important when camping in winter or the colder times of the year.
Below is an R-Values temperature chart. The R-Value Sleeping Pad prevents temperature transfer from the cold to the warmth of the body and sleeping bag. into Temperature.
The video below by Exped explains what R-Values are and how it refers to sleeping mats in a detailed yet informative way.
Sleeping Pad Packed Size
All these lightweight sleeping pads are compact enough to be rolled up to the size of a 1 litre Nalgene bottle, with the exception of the Z Lite foam pad.
I rarely use a stuff sack. I just roll it up and stuff it in my backpack. When hiking and bicycle touring I roll the mattress up and pack it inside my sleeping bag but only when it is dry.
Many of the companies include a stuff sack that also has a valve to use as a way of inflating the mattress.
A good idea to prevent stinky, humid breath from entering the mattress, but is the extra weight worth it!
The Therm a Rest NeoAir XLite is the most popular lightweight sleeping pad on the market for good reason.
At 12oz / 340g for the regular length version and an R-Value of 3.2 it is not only lightweight but super comfortable, reasonably priced and comes with a great lifetime warranty.
It also comes in a short version which only reaches the hips instead of all the way to the feet.
Ultra light ounce counters love the short option of the Therm a Rest NeoAir XLite.
The only down side I have about this mattress is the insulation layer inside the mattress. It makes an annoyingly loud crinkling sound every time someone rolls over on this mattress. After a week or two of use the noise it not so loud.
Very light sleepers might not like this very much, although it has never bothered me, it can be a deal breaker for some.
I used this mattress for several sections of the Pacific Crest Trail and loved it. I still have the mattress today.
Weight – 12oz / 340g R-Value – 3.2 Temperature Rating – 23F / -5C Pros – Lightweight, comfortable, very small pack size, great lifetime warranty. Cons – noisy crinkly sound, especially when new.
All the same great quality as the all the other Therm a Rest pads but with more insulation to help with those cold sleepers who need all the help they can get to stay warm.
At 15oz / 430g the Therm A Rest NeoAir XTherm is one of the best backpacking sleeping pads for cold temperatures.
The NeoAir X-Therm is very lightweight, super comfortable and reasonably priced.
This is a great option for anyone wanting to spend time outdoors during the colder parts of the year.
It would be perfect for high altitude hikes or bicycle tours in the Andes or Himalaya or for the cold sleeper who wants a bit more insulation.
I used the Therm a Rest NeoAir XTherm lightweight sleeping pad while thru hiking the coldest sections of the Sierra Section of the Pacific Crest Trail and had no reason to feel any cold transfer from the mattress below me.
For an insulated backpacking sleeping pad this is one of the best.
Weight – 15oz / 430g R-Value – 5.7 Temperature rating | -9F / -23C Pros – Great warmth to weight ratio, great warranty, reasonably priced, small pack size. Cons – The extra insulation is a waist of weight and money if not hiking in colder temperatures.
Ultralight Thru Hiker Micheal ‘Grizzly’ Ivey got his hands on one of these recently released mats. This is what he had to say,
“It has a very small packed size of 6 inches by 3.5 inches” which is smaller than a 1 litre Nalgene Bottle!”
“The Therm a Rest UberLite simply disappears in your pack while still offering a very cushy and enjoyable sleep. This pad is great for side sleepers with its 2.5 inches thick while also being quieter than other Therm-a-Rest inflatable pads”.
“The UberLite is able to be so light weight by using a thin 15 denier nylon. This is the lightest material used on the market.
In testing I’ve seen no issues with the thin material however I will be extra careful when choosing my campsites to make sure I clear any sharp debris from under my shelter”.
“I would recommend this pad to anyone who sleeps warm to neutral and is looking to reduce their base weight down without sacrificing comfort at night. I used this mattress on the Pacific Crest Trail and Colorado Trail in 2019”.
This is the best ultralight sleeping pad on the market right now! But is it strong enough in the long term! Want to know how it goes long term?
Weight – 8.8oz / 250 grams R-Value – 2 Temperature Rating – 37F / 3C Pros – Ultralight, very small pack size, comfortable, not as noisy as Neo Air. Cons – Best for summer use only, expensive, thin material might be prone to punctures.
At around $35, the Therm a Rest Z-Lite Sol is one of the best closed cell foam pads for the budget conscious person.
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The lightweight Z-Lite Sol closed cell foam pad weights only 14oz / 410g and is the best foam sleeping pad on the market.
It provides enough comfort for most tired people. But if you are a side sleeper, this sleeping pad will not be the most comfortable.
This closed cell foam pad is also a favourite with the speedy hikers who love to throw down the mattress and sleep anywhere, anytime, ‘Hikertrash‘ style!
Unlike the other sleeping pads for backpacking in this review, the Therm a rest Z Lite will not get a puncture and deflate at the worst moment.
A great option for cactus filled deserts.
The foam sleeping pad also provides great insulation making it a great sleeping pad for backpacking in snow.
This is one of the best closed cell foam sleeping pads on the market at the moment with a great budget price and overall it is still a nice light sleeping pad.
Weight – 14oz / 410g R-Value – 2.6 Temperature Rating | 34F / 1C Pros – Lightweight,, no punctures when sleeping near cactus or other spiny plants, good insulation in cold, cheap Cons – Bulky packed size, uncomfortable for most people.
At 14oz / 410g the Nemo Tensor Insulated is an ultralight insulated sleeping pad but the best thing about this mattress is how quiet it is when rolling over.
A complete contrast to most of the other mattresses in this review.
This is the most comfortable of the mattresses in this review. It is also slightly thicker than the other mattresses which makes it a great choice for a side sleeper like myself. I sleep with all the pressure on the hips and shoulders.
I recently used this mattress in 2019 on my hike of the Te Araroa Trail and loved it, however, I did get a couple of small holes near the internal baffles.
There are a couple of different versions of the Nemo Tensor. In my opinion the Insulated mummy is the best.
The Regular Tensor Mummy weighs, 12oz / 345g, which is a bit lighter than the insulated but not as suited to cold temperatures below 35F / 2C.
The Sea to Summit Ether light XT is their newest lightweight sleeping pad. It is Sea to Summit’s flagship model right now.
At a whooping 4inches/10cm thick this is the thickest mattress in this review.
This is the best ultralight sleeping pad for side sleepers. The thickness and air sprung cells make it super comfortable for even the most fussy of side sleepers.
It is also made of materials that make it very quiet when turning over during the night. No more clinking sounds as you toss and turn during the night.
It is ultra lightweight at 12oz/350g but should only be used in warmer weather . The Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated version is slightly heavier at 15oz/425g but for slide sleepers it is a better option.
Such a thick mattress comes at the cost of needing many breaths to inflate it but Sea to Summit have solved this problem by adapting the Stuff Sac so it can be used inflate the mattress.
Weight – 12oz/350g R-Value – 0.8 Temperature Rating | 50F / 10C Pros – Perfect for side sleepers, lightweight, stuff sac can be used to inflate the mattress Cons – Not insulated enough for cold temperatures
Big Agnes is another big name that entered the mattress making business.
The Big Agnes AXL Air is ultra lightweight at 9.6oz / 272g. The sleeping pad R-Value 2.6 makes it a good 3 season sleeping pad which is best used in summer with temperatures above freezing.
It also is a nice thick mattress which makes it a great mattress for side sleepers.
It is a great ultralight option that is well suited for anyone thinking of summer hiking or ultra lightweight thru hiking. A great alternative to the Uberlite from Thermarest.
For slightly colder temperatures the Big Agnes AXL Insulated is a better option. Weighing 10.6oz / 301g the Big Agnes Insulated is lightweight and packs up small. Just be warned that just because it says it is insulated doesn’t mean that it has enough insulation to keep you warm. This is still a summer only mattress.
Weight – 9.6oz / 272g R-Value – 2.6 Temperature Rating | 32F / 0C Pro – Ultralight, compact, stuff sac can be used to inflate the mattress, good for side sleepers. Cons – Not suited for cold temperatures
Both are suitable for winter camping or high altitude trekking. The Nemo Tensor Alpine is more comfortable and quiet, the Therm a rest X-Therm is lighter.
Are you heading to the Himalayan or Andes mountains for some high altitude trekking? or want a mat to use in winter? These would be the ones to consider.
Best Sleeping Pad for Side Sleepers?
The Best Sleeping Pad for side sleepers are the Nemo Tensor Insulated, Big Agnes AXL or the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT. The Sea to Summit Ether Light XT is a massive 4 inches thick, has a small packed size and a pump sack to inflate it.
Overall, the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT is the best sleeping pad for side sleepers.
All are super comfortable thick mattresses that will ensure a better nights sleep for side sleepers than some the thinner sleeping pads in this review.
Best Budget Sleeping Pad
The best budget sleeping pad is the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol. It is also cheap and the best mattress for anyone traveling in cactus and thorn infested deserts of the world.